Personal

Airing Laundry

Sometime after the 9/11 attacks, someone started a blog. In this blog, they wrote about someone they lost. Someone they loved. Someone stripped away from them. Each day, they wrote about this person. Maybe my memory has romanticized it, but I believe it was a widow writing about her husband. Or, just as easily, a widower writing about his wife. A mother about her child. A child about their parent.

None of that is the point. The point is, this person, this stranger, who lost someone they loved, decided to write a poem a day. I don’t know when the blog started, and I can’t remember when it ended. This was years ago. And any internet searches lead me to dead ends.

And it doesn’t matter if I find the article that sent to the blog in the first place. What made me remember was a comment on Facebook. (And coincidentally, it just so happened that the 18th anniversary of 9/11 was mere days away.)

I posted a “preview” picture of my last post. Sometimes, I like to make the announcement a new post is coming up and share it on my Instagram, which, of course, is connected to my Facebook. My cousin saw the photo and remarked, “Why are you so morbid? Everything is a learning experience in life. Some to forget some to remember. However yes the past should stay in the past but not to be forgotten. Move forward never backwards. Just saying little cousin.”

Imagine calling someone morbid and thinking it’s a teachable lesson. Mind you, this is a person who airs her dirty laundry on Facebook as if hanging fine art in an exhibit. (And, yes, I see the irony of me talking about this while chastising her for doing the same thing.) A person who talks about past transgressions as if they happened an hour ago. Who rants, raves, and spews venom about her sister; although, sister isn’t so innocent of herself. In fact, the pair of them are the reason I no longer accept friend requests from family.

Imagine the poet who wrote daily about their loss having a cousin who told them, “Why are you so morbid? It happened. Move on.”

If my year started in August 9, 2018, it can be charted with the people I lost. The night that a car accident took the lives of three wonderful people. The day I learned a college friend passed away. And the exclamation mark, my death of my estranged father, someone I only had days to make amends with.

Yes, people pick themselves up. They dust themselves off. And they continue. And, yes, life throws at us moments that can only make us stronger. And that was my point in the last post.

It’s the lifting yourself up. It’s the dusting your jeans off. It’s looking at your pasting and wondering how you got this far. It’s about looking at the people who made you who you are. The moments that shaped your being.

How am I morbid? Because I remember the days chasing trucks that look like my father’s? Because I still have nightmares of a phone ringing past midnight and entering emergency rooms to see the mother of my child in pain? Because the words of the ER nurse echoing in my head? (“She was the only survivor.”) How I remember the smile spread across my father’s slacked face when he realized who I was? How I spent the next few days watching him slowly slip into that good night? Because I remember how my heart dropped when I entered his room to find that he’d left before I got there? And how I refused to believe what was obvious.

These are moments that still haunt me, and so I write about them. And I will continue to write about them until I don’t. I’m sorry if you find that morbid.

Doldrums

People I Met on the Way Down

Never took the time to appreciate my surroundings. Never really put much thought in what it took to get to this place. Six years ago, I couldn’t even fathom getting to this place. It’s not always simple; there are days when it feels like giving up is just easier. These days, though, that’s not even an option I consider. And if I think too much about those moments (because that’s all they are these days), I risk falling into the rut. Let’s ignore that. For now anyway.

Depression has been a lifelong companion. For years, however, I let it take the wheel. It ruled my every thought. After the split, I just gave into it. Allowed it to make my decisions and let me tell you—they weren’t always good decisions. Actually, there are so many things I did, said, and thought during my long journey to here that I’d rather not think about.

But I’m not here to “throw shade” at my mistakes. Something happened that put things into perspective. These last two months have been a strange roller coaster and strange beginnings.

In August, Jeanna was involved in a car accident that took the lives of her mother, sister, and youngest nephew. Breaking the news to Shaun wasn’t easy; it’s nothing a person can prepare themselves for. Jeanna was on the road to recovery, but he’d lost three special people in his life. While the hospital allowed Shaun weekend visits, he was thrust into a situation of living with me full time. (He’s asleep as I type these words, by the way.)

A lot of people use death as their motivation, and I can see why. Life is short. It’s fucking unpredictable as hell. I’m appreciative of the days I’ve had, and those that are still on the horizon for me. But I don’t know what lies beyond what I can see, because even that isn’t guaranteed.

As I sat in the waiting room, trying to make sense of all the news just thrown at me, I made phone calls. A few phone calls, actually. I called my mom first because she had Shaun. I called Virginia second because I needed to hear her voice; I needed the comfort she has been so good at giving. She didn’t answer, but that was expected; it was one in the morning, after all. I called Monica because she’s been there for me through so much already. And I called Laura, who called me back. Each did their best to calm my tears and fears.

It’s strange to conclude a post about depression with death, but there’s a reason why it ties together in the end.

I’m appreciative of where I am now. There are difficult moments. Like knowing that Jeanna’s mom isn’t going to just text me out of the blue. Or that I will no longer have these random conversations with Marci on Facebook. I’ll never see Arnie, who passed away in September, make another comment on one of my Facebook updates (and like his own comment). I’ll never get a strange, middle of the night phone call from Shon (who passed away last Wednesday) about one conspiracy or another.

I’m happy that I was given the opportunity to have these people in my life. And I’m happy to have been in theirs. I’m happy to have called a few of them my family.

I’m appreciative of where I am now, and more so for the people who helped me get here. And not just with this situation, but situations in the past and those that bloomed in its wake. To those who helped me by dragging me out of my home even though the depression was eating at me. To those who hugged me despite my aversion to it. To those who cared enough to ask me how I felt at any given time. To those who I call family.

Thank you.

Personal

In Remembrance

It may have been a tad ungrateful of me; I’m sure my mother made me realize that sometime between receiving the gift (which caused, I’m sure, a negative facial reaction) to returning to the store from which it was purchased. If memory served me well, it was a Polo shirt—you know the kind. The one with the horse embroidered by the collar—and khaki pants. As I pulled the outfit out of the bag and grimaced, my aunt gave me a quizzical look. “You don’t like it?” she asked sweetly.

Where do I begin? I remember the endless mocking I’ve received from wearing my CK tee to school. How I experienced a label switch at a drop of a hat. From misfit loner to preppy poseur. Sure, labels mean nothing to me these days (and maybe they didn’t mean much to me then), but when you’re still trying to find your place in the world, these things meant the world.

“Maybe we’ll find you something you’ll like when we return it,” she said. We did.

A few years later, after high school graduation, my aunt offered to buy me a late graduation present. I shuddered. Memories of clothing that didn’t fit my personality came rushing back. “How about you buy me a book instead?” I asked meekly. And she did. Something called House of Leaves, a book that would later defeat me in college.

Today, I attended the RGV premier of the music documentary As I Walk Through the Valley (more on that in another post), my phone exploded with notifications. Some e-mail. A text. Several from Facebook. The movie was winding down, it seemed. What was the harm in looking now?

Of course, I’d think that.

Even before I started looking at the likes, comments, and replies, a post by my cousin stood out. “My mom died,” it read.

The sound of the film faded. My mind went utterly blank. My aunt Wanda died. Aunt Cookie. The lady who couldn’t understand her nephew sometimes, though she tried. I fumbled with my phone. I couldn’t comprehend. Is this really happening? Breathe.

I called Mom. I needed some sort of semblance. Some sort of understanding what this (not-so) cryptic status update meant. My cousin had called my brother. Through sobs, she told him that her mother was gone. He called Mom and broke the news.

Aunt Cookie, as I knew her. No idea where that nickname came from, or who was the first person to call her that. Gone. Ceasing to exist in a blink of an eye. And parts of me screamed for me to well up in tears. Because this is the woman who had rather me be honest with her than wear something I hated to please her.

I still can’t comprehend it. As much as I understand the words. Understand the story my mother told me later on in the night. What happened. How it happened. When it happened. And the hardest decision my uncle might had to make in his entire life. I still can’t fathom that it’s true.

Gone.

Not sure if I’ll keep this post up. This is just me. Trying to make sense of the world.

Doldrums

An Atheist Christmas Special

I’ve dodged the question for several years now. The number of times hasn’t grown since my announcement of “converting” to atheism. If anything, it’s lessened. And that’s not because people have become more accepting to my “lack of” views; it has everything to do with my lack of interest in talking to the general public. Still there’s one every year who cannot help but to ask. Sometimes it’s condescending. Sometimes it’s mere curiosity. Usually, it’s annoying. Over the commotion for the world around us, the question pours from his mouth and becomes a thorn to my temples. My head quakes with an urge to launch into a diatribe filled with frothing words. And it hangs in the air like a Pisces breath.

“If you’re an atheist, how can you celebrate Christmas?”

The question comes in various forms throughout the year. “If you’re an atheist, what do you believe in?” “If you’re an atheist, where do you get your moral value from?” “If you’re an atheist…?”

I wasn’t raised atheist. I didn’t have the same luxury that you did. I found my (non)religion on my own. The set of morals I grew up with are common sense. Doing bad things to others is wrong. If you can’t realize that, it’s not religion you’re missing—it’s empathy.

But why Christmas?

This might come as a blow to you put-the-Christ-back-in-Christmas folks, but your lord and savior wasn’t born on Christmas day. The Bible makes no notation on his birth date (or year, for that matter). And considering that the good book is riddle with historical and scientific inaccuracies, it wouldn’t have mattered. And call me a religious conspiracy theorist (as one such friend mocked), but Christmas started off as a pagan holiday. Christians made a habit of lying to non-believers, stealing their pagan celebrations and beliefs and altering them into something that resembled their own.

But why celebrate if the religious connotations are present?

Because I don’t see them. Santa Claus (despite also being St. Nick) isn’t a religious figure. Nor are elves, flying reindeer, the tree, consumerism/materialism, eating pork tamales (because it’s one of the forbidden foods), etc. I just see it as a time of year of being around family and loved ones. A second Thanksgiving.

A Father Christmas

“Jesse’s gone into dad mode,” Monica tells me as we head out for our monthly excursion to Barnes and Noble. She’s come to this conclusion because Jesse has asked for a flashlight. It’s reminiscent of their father’s Christmas wishes.

I think about it for a bit. I know there won’t be anything waiting for me underneath the Christmas tree. Still, I think, wouldn’t it be cool to find a nice tool set, the kind that comes with a set of Allen wrenches? It’s a giddy thought. Somewhere along the lines, I stopped expecting toys for Christmas. As adult, you have to buy your own toys. Christmas becomes more about getting things you wouldn’t get on your own, but know you need around the house. And right now, I need a set of Allen wrenches to dismantle an unused crib.

Altruism

As few of you know, I work at a library. The library world is a family one. There are relatives you love and cannot be away from. There are relatives you hardly speak a word to. There are relatives you wish would just fall off a cliff. And there’s extended family members you haven’t met before.

Last month, we learned that two of our patrons were homeless. The family found themselves in a tough spot. We gathered food and boxed it and presented it to them for Thanksgiving. In lieu of our usual secret Santa gift exchange, we all agreed it would be nice if we gave this family a Christmas they couldn’t afford.

Altruism, for me, is always done in the shadows. In the past, whenever I donated money to a cause, I always wrote in my nephew’s name. Now, I write in Shaun’s. I don’t do nice things because it makes me feel good. I don’t do them to get into heaven. And I don’t do them for recognition. So when it came to this gift giving, I didn’t expect to get any. However, it became a photo-op and they wrangled me in. I stood off to the side, hoping I’d get cropped out in the final edit.

This is the time of year when people boast about donating money, food, and their time to charity. They puff out and beat their chests declaring the amount of good they do each year. They want to measure up their good deeds like men in a circle jerk comparing their erect cocks. The better and exponent the deeds, the bigger their wings, their halo, the cleaner their conscience.

People should stop expecting rewards for doing nice things. They need to stop pretending that the season of giving comes only once or twice a year. It should last all year round. They shouldn’t take credit for something their church does each year, when they didn’t lift a finger. That’s like sport fans saying they won a game when they’re not even on the damn team.

Linus’s Speech Revamp for a Secular Crowd

wpid-img_20141225_082835.jpgEvery parent wants what is best for their kids. Our job is to raise and guide them the best we know how. Sometimes we tell little white lies—the stork, Santa Claus, gods and monsters—to give them magic in the world. The end game is always the same. We want them to excel where we couldn’t.

I only bought Shaun one present this year (three if you count accessories). He looked thrilled to see the new tablet that awaited for him inside the box. A tablet he could take home with him to his mom’s. I loaded all his games and placed a few dollars in his Google Wallet. And he spent his morning counting, finding, and putting puzzles together. When got tired, he sat on my lap and asked to color. We sprawled out on the floor and colored the pages I printed for him. We watched a movie together. We talked. We sang songs. We ran around. We played with his toys from last Christmas.

And I thought about the parents of the kids killed this year. I thought about the families of the police officers murdered in cold blood. I thought about the families of the people who murdered those kids and those police officers. Imagined what their Christmas must be like this year. That dark cloud hanging over their heads. Several people already labeled me anti-police. I stand against a system that allows officers to act as judge, jury, and executioner in cases where the suspect posed no threat.

Is it safe to assume that all these parents had the same wish for the kids that I do for Shaun? It wouldn’t matter if my kid came out of the closet some years down the line. Wouldn’t make me flinch if he told me he was born in the wrong body. Wouldn’t bother me if he served in our military. I’d be proud if he chose to become a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, or journalist.

What I want most for my kid is that he grows up happy. The he knows he’s loved even when things seem bleak. That he can come to me no matter what. That he is good and kind and understanding to the people around him. That it’s not about how much you have as compared to your neighbor, but that your neighbor has something.

And if you ask me, that has little to do with Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, or whatever. And it has everything with being a decent human being.

Merry Christmas. And Happy Holidays.